Study shows a “starved” City Parks and Recreation Department

Grand Rapids – The City of Grand Rapids has a remarkable yet deteriorating and underutilized system of parks and recreational assets according to a comprehensive audit of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Download Full Report (pdf)

The study, conducted by Pros Consulting, one of the leading authorities on Parks and Recreation systems in the nation, recommends new operating strategies and a more diversified funding portfolio to begin rebuilding the system and positioning it to meet the growing needs of our community. The study was commissioned by The Parks and Recreation Transformation Design Team.

The study is an independent analysis that shows where we are struggling and helps to compare to peer cities. It also presents opportunities for reversing the trends and rebuilding a quality parks system that encourages economic competitiveness, public health and quality of life.

Findings and Recommendations:

The study is based on individual interviews, site tours, operational assessments, past budgets, policies, organizational charts and Urban Metro Park comparisons. “The financial situation of the Parks Department indicates a department that has been starved for some time,” the study finds.   

Other principle findings include: 


  • Park maintenance budgets have shrunk 40% since 2002. Staffing levels are down 68%.
  • This year, the tax spending per resident per year is $19.34.  A 2009 study from the National Recreation and Park Association shows the national average is $49 per resident.
  • Park acreage per 1000 residents is 7.88 acres, Great Lakes and Midwest cities are typically 12-15 acres per 1000 residents.
  • Revenues from grants and program fees for the Department are currently 37% of the operating budget, approximately 8% below the Great Lakes and Midwest average.
  • The Department has had no significant levels of capital improvement funding for the last five years from the General Operating Fund and is currently in need of an estimated $30 million to repair and update what they already own.

The study also shows that the Parks Department needs to be repositioned for the future.  The goal is to create a more self-sustaining park system, but this will require the implementation of new models and processes.  The study outlines 13 Financial Management Principles and over 30 Operational and Policy changes that could guide the Department toward greater efficiency and effectiveness in the coming years.

The study concludes with several funding options for improving the Department’s financial position.  The Parks and Recreation Department has already implemented many innovative partnerships, earned income strategies and program fees.  The study shows that quality park systems no longer rely on taxes as their sole revenue option but have developed new sources of revenue that help support capital and operational needs.

Next Steps:

The study, The Comprehensive Audit Analysis for Parks and Recreation, is now available online at the City of Grand Rapids and Friends of Grand Rapids websites.  The Parks and Recreation Transformation Design Team will meet in March to discuss the audit findings and develop an implementation strategy to move forward.

On April 13th, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks will be inviting the study’s Author, Leon Younger, to present on “Developing and Managing Quality Outcome Based Park Systems through Innovative Partnerships” at our 2nd Anniversary event.  It will be an opportunity to learn more about what other communities are doing to create high quality parks.

We would also like to acknowledge the hard and honest work of the City Parks and Rec. Dept and the Transformation Design Team in helping to put this report together. 

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